There has been so much inconsequential musing about what the NY Times article did or did not say with respect to whether Senator McCain was or was not romantically involved with Vicki Iseman, a Washington lobbyist, that the other implications in the article have been plowed under a mountain of confusing verbiage. Critics insist there is no there, there, and discussions have focused on whether the journalistic bona fides of the country’s “paper of record” have been damaged beyond repair.

The newspaper’s writers and editors have been pilloried for sloppy reporting and implied wrongdoing unsupported by either specific evidence or sources willing to go on record. The preponderance of public opinion seems to be focused around the sexual angle because that’s the hook that gets people’s attention above all else. Everyone wants a little blue dress to emerge to satisfy their prurient interests or for heaven’s sake just let Senator McCain get back to running for president.

And the Keating stuff mentioned in the article is old news; if the Senator took rides and vacationed with his friend at Lincoln Savings before the bottom fell out of that savings and loan operation, well that was common practice back in the good old days. He didn’t think he did anything really wrong and was furious that his colleagues in the Senate saw fit to censure him for his relationship with Keating. Everyone knows about that, don’t they; voters don’t need to be educated about past questionable behaviors do they? After all what ever became of the interminable fishing expedition into the Clintons’ ties to that obscure land deal called Whitewater that went nowhere? Oh right, at some point during those long days of turmoil a little blue dress showed up – – and at last there was the there.

But, lest we forget, The NY Times was every bit as fired up about all that nastiness as any talk-show blowhard or ultra-conservative rag’s editorial board. And wasn’t it Judith Miller who acted as stenographer to the White House in the run-up to the Iraq invasion by writing front-page article after article supporting the administration with information fed to her by Scooter Libby? So even though Rush Limbaugh crows in his best ‘I-told-you-so’ mode about “liberals”, hoping McCain will have learned his lesson about ‘reaching across the aisle’ or entertaining  ‘liberal press folk’ the Times has been known to stray from its “liberal” underpinnings from time to time. Still, according to Limbaugh, “liberals” cannot be trusted and must be crushed.

What is, however, most disturbing about all this chatter is the tenor of partisan debate across the airwaves, in Congress and throughout the country. There could probably have been more meat in the Times piece, but there are some nuggets that deserve attention, most notably an acknowledgement that the bright line McCain has attempted to draw between himself and Washington influence peddlers isn’t so bright after all. He may insist he didn’t do any favors for contributors or members of the lobbying establishment, but he cannot deny his prior and continuing association with entrenched power brokers who currently serve as advisors in his presidential campaign.

From what can be gathered in the article, the most important factor in the Iseman connection isn’t that she and McCain might have engaged in an elicit affair so much as the fact that she seems to have been around too much. According to the article’s sources they were concerned that she was boasting around town that she had access to McCain and was trading on her special ability to reach him. And, whether innocent or otherwise, it didn’t look good that she was becoming such a familiar face at functions in the company of McCain , so several of his advisors said they told him he should be careful to avoid any appearance of impropriety, a warning he does not recall having been made.

If out of all this NY Times flap the net result is a bump for McCain, that would just be one of the many ironies in this most convoluted of campaign seasons – – an indication that the Republican Party and its candidates must be deemed reliably “Conservative”, and that advocates like Hannity, Limbaugh and Ingraham are somehow calling the shots for one of the country’s major parties, forcing it to tilt right and insuring that the country will remain divided when its needs would be best served by dealing in facts rather than partisan rants, in reconciliation rather than acrimony.